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Environmental Management Means More Green at Hospira

A smaller environmental footprint means greater benefits for the company and its customers.

In 2004, when Hospira Inc. was created as a spin-off from a larger organization, the firm initiated tracking its waste and energy use as an independent company and had no set practices for limiting its environmental footprint.

By the end of 2008 (with 2005 as a baseline), Hospira, now the world leader in specialty generic injectable pharmaceuticals, had achieved a 10 percent reduction in water use, a 38 percent reduction in process air emissions, a 22 percent reduction in hazardous waste, a 12 percent reduction in non-hazardous waste and a 5 percent reduction in product packaging.

The reductions quickly surpassed the majority of the targets Hospira had set, and the company now is evaluating how to structure post-2010 goals for even more aggressive reductions. But the accomplishments thus far already have resulted in environmental improvements for both Hospira and many of the health care facilities to which it supplies products.

In addition to reducing its own environmental footprint, in 2006, Hospira launched a more environmentally friendly intravenous (I.V.) container that so far has saved 1.4 million pounds of plastic waste from entering the U.S. hospital waste stream.

How did Hospira accomplish so much so fast? The company's EHS and sustainability executives believe Hospira benefited, in part, from its youth. But the lessons the company has learned can provide a blueprint not only for newer companies, but also for any EHS professionals who are looking to establish new environmental practices.

Here are five important tips to consider, along with some lessons learned at Hospira:

Take advantage of a clean slate. Getting management approval for corporate environmental initiatives can take months or years, and actually getting approved efforts off the ground can take even longer. But working in a newly formed company or with a new management team can offer fast-tracking advantages.

As a new corporate entity, Hospira's senior management had a strong desire to create environmental metrics to drive resource use efficiency, reduce regulatory impacts and address stakeholder concerns. Similarly, there was no corporate history of what “wouldn't work.” Both factors made it easier to sell ideas to Hospira's top management, says John Robbins, the company's manager of corporate sustainability.

In more established companies, a new manager of a department may be more willing than others to embrace new environmental initiatives as a way to build up a track record in the position. The same could be true for a new CEO or other top management executive looking to fill a clean slate. When there isn't a new manager, a new budget-planning season may offer a similar opportunity. Try selling EHS initiatives while deciding managers already are thinking ahead to a new year and before all budget dollars have been allocated.

Make sure “green” initiatives make financial sense. Robbins notes that while convincing management was easy, finding resources — people and money to manage projects — was tougher. This especially is the case because some initiatives that make good green sense can have a high cost to get off the ground. So be prepared to show environmental initiatives will either save money long-term or help the company address the concerns of its stakeholders (and reduce potential negative impact to revenue) by proactively addressing an issue that has an easily measurable environmental impact.

For instance, Hospira's U.S. sales fleet of more than 600 leased vehicles emitted approximately 7,200 tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in 2006. In 2008, the company began a 3-year project to switch its fleet to hybrid cars. By the end of 2010, Hospira's entire sales fleet will consist of hybrids — and its greenhouse gas emissions will have been reduced by 20 percent. While hybrid cars do cost the company more upfront, fuel purchase savings, the environmental benefits and goodwill earned with stakeholders made the change worth the initial cost.

Similarly, the EHS team convinced management that Hospira should join the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), an organization that administers voluntary carbon emission reduction commitments and trades greenhouse gas emissions for its members. Members of CCX must commit to energy reductions, and tend to be leaders in terms of addressing carbon emission issues. Benefits to Hospira included developing the internal systems to collect, report and analyze its energy consumption in terms of its potential impacts to the environment, have its data audited under the exchange's rules and being ahead of the curve for any country or regional legislation requiring reporting or reduction of carbon emissions.

Make sure a process for identifying, controlling and monitoring environmental matters is in place. Like many environmentally focused companies, Hospira uses the “Plan, Do, Check, Act” (PDCA) model to achieve EHS continual improvement. In the “plan” stage, the company identifies and assesses environmental, health and safety risks. In the “do” stage, it focuses on managing risks. Actions to correct and prevent EHS issues are taken in the “check” stage, and the entire process is reviewed in the “act” stage.

As part of this process, Hospira employees easily identified opportunities for reducing the company's environmental footprint. But the EHS team also sought recommendations from an independent third party, a health care industry consultant who ultimately confirmed many of the actions Hospira already had begun taking.

“We essentially brought in a consultant to validate the benefits of sustainability to our organization,” Robbins said. Such external expertise can be highly effective in influencing the management team of both the balance and benefits of sustainability efforts.

Allocate goals appropriately among the people and facilities that contribute to them. One major lesson Hospira learned in seeking to achieve its environmental goals was about goal setting itself. As a new and growing company, there was no internal history on which to base environmental goals, so EHS executives could only make a reasonable guess on reductions for each of the areas. They also initially allocated these goals equally among each of the company's manufacturing plants.

But when it was time to measure progress, they quickly realized that each of the plants contributes to water and energy use differently. For instance, a Hospira manufacturing location for pharmaceutical solutions uses more water than any of the company's other facilities. This is due to the fact that production of these solutions requires water not only to make the product, but also large quantities of water to sterilize it. The larger the volume of solutions made, the more water is needed for ancillary heating and cooling. The plants also produce different levels of emissions and hazardous and non-hazardous waste. Therefore, focusing resource efficiency efforts at the appropriate location can give the largest payback for the effort.

The overarching lesson, Robbins says, is that a company needs to have a good database on metrics and an understanding of the underlying operation before trying to make changes.

Hospira also found that its employees were eager to get involved and suggest ways to eliminate waste from production at facilities around the globe — from the company's headquarters in Lake Forest, Ill., to its manufacturing facility in Mulgrave, Australia. Some sites have formed “green teams” that implement and promote environmentally friendly practices. In 2007, the Mulgrave green team led efforts that resulted in the recycling of 40 tons of paper and cardboard — the equivalent of saving 520 trees, 100 barrels of oil, 164,000 kilowatts of electricity, 160 cubic meters of landfill and enough water to fill half of an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Worldwide, Hospira facilities recycled more than 17 million pounds of materials in 2008, ranging from solvents to plastics to batteries to printer cartridges.

Focus on meeting the needs of customers. As interest in green health care has grown in recent years, Hospira's customers increasingly were asking the company about its green product offerings. At the same time, special interest groups and, notably, Hospira's own advisory panel, were asking the company to reduce the amount of product waste that hospitals must handle. Such requests helped lead to the development of Hospira's premier green product, VisIV.

Approximately 90 percent of all hospital patients have some form of I.V. therapy, and plastic accounts for more than 10 percent of the 6,600 tons of waste hospitals produce daily. VisIV is the first large-volume, flexible I.V. container to require no moisture barrier, which means less waste for hospitals. VisIV's moisture barrier is built into its film.

Currently, approximately 1,400 of the 5,708 hospitals in the United States, or more than 20 percent, use VisIV either for some or most of their I.V. needs, resulting in the elimination of more than 1.4 million pounds of plastic waste since the launch of VisIV in 2006. The elimination of overwrap on flexible I.V. containers throughout the industry could remove more than 20 million pounds of plastic waste from U.S. hospitals each year. This year, Hospira is expanding its VisIV line to offer the product in an additional size.

These tips and lessons are the result of everything Hospira has accomplished in just 5 years, but the company and its executives realize that there still is more to be done. For instance, Hospira continues to look for ways to bring the environmentally conscious thinking behind VisIV to more of its products. And the company actively solicits new ideas from employees about ways to advance its environmental goals.

“The initiatives our employees have suggested and implemented thus far not only help make our company greener, they help our customers be greener, too,” said Christopher Begley, Hospira's chairman and chief executive officer. “That kind of input is critical to helping Hospira grow as a leader in green health care.”

Dennis Lowry is director, Global Environmental Health and Safety, for Hospira.

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